New facilities should make learning easier

Monday, May 22, 2006

Do you remember your old car?

It probably had its foibles.

One of the power windows didn't always work. You had to hold your mouth just right to get it to start. The CD player didn't work anymore, and the button for one of the remote rearview mirrors was missing.

Maybe it got you around, but it had poor gas mileage, and was entirely the wrong size for your family and cargo you found yourself trying to haul.

After carefully studying your budget, asking questions and researching the options, you took the plunge.

If you made the right choice, you were soon enjoying a better car. A reliable one, where everything worked. It got better mileage, was more comfortable, and would, you hoped, last until it was paid off.

We got the feeling Sunday attending the open house at our community's new primary school.

Chatting with teachers and staff, we heard a lot of praise for the new McCook Elementary.

For one thing, Principal Kathy Latta said, it's nice to have all the pre-school and lower elementary students and staff in one location. That's about 400 students now, and it probably increase by another 20 or so next fall.

There are no more lunches to be hauled in via pickup trucks, and 200 students at a time pick up their food in two serving lines, and eat family-style at comfortable, round tables in a bright, airy commons area.

Five kindergarten classes share a complex at the southwest corner of the building, with a sixth classroom to be full this fall.

We were surprised to find ourselves in a nice new library for the students with an adjoining professional library for the staff in what used to be the North Ward gymnasium and lunch room, with a computer room next door.

There's also a large multipurpose room for PE and other activities -- it's also reinforced as a tornado shelter -- and we're told a new work room for photocopying, complete with paper cutters and shelves of paper, is one of the staff's favorite additions.

But the casual visitor, who will have to be "buzzed in" at the front door, might not notice some of the details that make the most difference for the daily process of educating our children.

The school has improved lighting throughout, and air conditioning means heat days should become a thing of the past. Hallway lockers help bring order to the classrooms, and may also be credited with reducing instances of headlice infestations.

And, sinks for handwashing are in the hallway, where teachers can keep an eye on kids, as well as making it easier to prevent the spread of germs.

Now that the temporary modular classrooms have been removed, there will be more concrete work this summer, with the addition of a dropoff lane and perhaps more parking.

It was a long time coming, and the $6 million cost will take a while to pay off, but the new McCook Elementary School will be serving local students for generations to come.

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